Friday, November 6, 2009

10,000 Hours to Success

I’m undergoing a fiction fast and not reading or listening to any books for the entire month of November. This means that I can’t blog about all the books I’m currently reading. So instead, I’ll blog about a book I read last summer. “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell is all about what it takes to become an expert at anything. Gladwells answer: 10,000 hours of practice. Gladwell hypothosises that natural ability has almost no impact on success, and that completing 10,000 hours of practice means everything.

Regardless of the truth of Gladwell’s book, it seems to take the world a year to catch onto trends. “Outliers” was published last November, and now all of a sudden everywhere I turn I hear people talking about the 10,000 hours rule. Since I was apparently ahead of the curve on the tipping point for this trend (seeing as how I listened to “Outliers” six months after it was published instead of twelve) I’ll add my voice to the growing debate now.

I do disagree with Gladwell on one major issue. I think that natural tallent matters a lot at the beginning. If the 10,000 hours rule is true, I would be tempted to claim that people without natural talent are weeded out after the first 1,000 hours. In the amiture levels there is a lot of emphisis placed on natural ability and the people who don’t have inharent talent are almost never given the opportunity (or modivation) to put in the practice. So successful people are vertually always naturaly talented in their chosen field – they just practiced a lot too.

Now lets look at the 10,000 hours rule. The only example I’m going to use here is myself, if you want better examples, read Gladwell. I am an engineer by trade. I have been working in this field for 4.5 years, before that I had 3 years of engineering school. Assuming I currently spend 40 hours per week 50 weeks per year engineering, and I spent 20 hours per week 36 weeks per year while in school, I have currently spent 11,160 hours practicing engineering. Am I an expert engineer? Hard to say. Clearly I know more than I did back when I was in school, but I still depend on the expertice of many of my co-workers in some areas. Do I have natural talent in engineering? Probably – if I didn’t I would have been weeded out my first year of engineering school.

Next field – writing. I’ve written two novels, one that sucked and one that I think is good and I am currently querying. I’m also half way through a memoir, I wrote a bunch of papers back in high school and college, plus I’ve been writing this blog for about a year. My guess is that all this time writing adds up to about 3,000 hours. No where near 10,000. So I shouldn’t be considered an expert writer yet. That is probably a good thing – I’m sure there are lots of tricks to the trade I still need to learn.

But what defines an expert writer? I think I have natural talent, I would have quit writing a long time ago if I didn’t. But I’m also a fast writer. Back in college I used to average 20 minutes per page when writing papers (10 page paper = make sure to start in at least 3.5 hours before its due). I would estimate that I spent approximately 800 hours writing my last novel, and I honestly think it is good. So do I need to write 8 more books to finish my 10,000 hours before I can get anything published? Or does that just mean that my eighth novel is going to be the one that moves me from a midlister to a best seller?

A standard four year college education gives people about 3,000 hours of practice. Two more years of graduate school only amounts to 5,000 hours. Obviously on the job learning happens in every profession. But people get jobs all the time who aren’t “experts”. When it comes to the arts is there also room for income involved with on the job learning? Can a writer continue to grow their craft while a published mid-list writer? Can a painter have a few small gallery shows early on before breaking into the major museaums? Can a musician tour small venues before they top the bill board charts? Logic would say yes. Even Gladwell would say that artists often do get paid before they become experts. It is that early oppertunity/encouragement that enables artists to reach their 10,000 hours.

So I’m setting myself goals I hope are realistic. I want to be a writer. I want to find an agent and publisher for my latest novel. I believe that it is the best novel I can currently write. But I also trust that it isn’t the best book I will ever write. I hope that this novel makes is solidly into the mid-list. And I hope that as I continue to write, I will one day become an expert capable of a spot on the top of the New York Times Best seller list. But I’ve only done 3,000 hours. I’m not there yet. I just don’t want to believe 10,000 hours is required to get an agent.
Joke of the Day
A doctor, a civil engineer, and a consultant were arguing about the worlds oldest profession. The doctor said, "In the Bible it says God created Eve from a rib taken from Adam. Clearly surgery is the worlds oldest profession."
THe civil engineer then said, "But before God created Adam, he created the order of the heavens and the earth out of the chaos. THis was the first and most spectacular application of civil enigineering. So mine is the oldest profession."
Then the consultant said, "But who do you think created teh chaos?"

1 comment:

Bryan, Porsche, Mircea, and Casper said...

I really like your "need to start 3.5 hours before a paper is due for a 10 page paper." that was funny and I could totally relate! snicker.

Anyway, I think you are a great writer. Each of your posts intrigues me. I like to be intrigued. . . keep it up! I bet your other works are awesome!